Port Hope, ON (Jan. 31, 2013) – A second round of Area Rating consultation by the Municipality of Port Hope has started but there have been numerous hiccups.
In early January, municipal staff had set up an Olympian time schedule to complete two phases of community consultation, which was to start with an Area Rating Survey being made available on Jan. 17 so that the completed feedback forms could be received by Feb. 3.
The expected online version didn’t appear at the municipal website until Jan. 21, and the printed 3 page double-sided survey didn’t start appearing in mailboxes until Jan. 23 and continued randomly being delivered for the next 7 days.
With some residents not receiving the survey until Thurs. Jan. 30, the deadline of Feb. 3 became unreasonable, and had to be extended to Feb. 7. The Municipal press releases had said they were soliciting feedback from “property owners” which made sense since it was a municipal tax issue which could result in a hefty 47% tax increase for Ward 2 property owners. But instead of the survey being mailed to the property owners listed on the tax roll, the unstapled survey sheets went out as unaddressed, bulk mail without even envelopes. The survey itself had only a space to enter your name and whether you lived in Ward 1 or Ward 2. There was no process in place to verify or quantify the survey respondents.
At the Municipal town hall Q&A forum at the Rec Centre on Jan 29, Council was asked if there was any criteria – property owner or not, age, etc – for who could fill out the survey, and Council responded that the only criteria was that the person had to live in the municipality. When asked if that meant a 12 year old fill it out, the answer was yes.
When asked how the data from the completed surveys would be used, Mayor Linda Thompson replied that the data would be used by staff to generate “themes” which would be used by the facilitator in Phase 2 of the community consultation.
To assist in the process, the citizen group, Port Hopers for Fair Taxes, held a public information session on the Area Rating Survey at the Lions Centre on Jan. 27. The basics of Area Rating and a line-by-line review of the survey was presented to a standing room only crowd. More than half those in attendance had not yet received the survey, and those who had, expressed bewilderment over how to vote on the 29 municipal departments listed.
A common complaint heard from the audience was that there was not enough information or breakdown of costs per department to make a decision on whether to vote “Common” or “Special”. The consensus was that the Municipality needs to release the full financial data so that its citizens can give informed feedback.
Port Hopers for Fair Taxes is concerned that the survey feedback will be used by staff to generate new taxation “options” which will be based on incomplete and potentially misinformed information. The group had tried to persuade Council to have the public information sessions in Stage 1 and the survey in Stage 2, arguing that residents would be able to give more informed feedback after they have had a chance to learn the basics of area rating and the differences between “Common” and “Special” survey choices.
Port Hopers for Fair Taxes urges Council to release full financial data for each department so that informed feedback and decisions can be made, and they are encouraged that at the town hall forum on Jan. 29 Mayor Linda Thompson said there would be a second survey for resident feedback at the end of Stage 2.